Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Known Winner


There is something exciting about the unknown. From centuries ago, when new lands were being discovered, to modern times and our quest to explore the solar system, there is something truly fascinating about knowing the unknown.

When Curtis Jordan ended his brilliant career as the Princeton heavyweight crew coach, Princeton director of athletics Gary Walters had the opportunity to play Lewis & Clark. He boarded his own NASA shuttle and launched into the unknown world of potential replacements. The ever-expanding sport of rowing has talented candidates from coast to coast.

It was undoubtedly an exciting mission. But when Walters concluded his national search, he made the right decision. In the sea of unknowns, there was that one special known.

Greg Hughes is the new Princeton heavyweight coach.

Personally, TB couldn’t be happier for Hughes, a colleague he has worked with since 2002 and a man who has taught him more about the sport than anybody else. Hughes is a good man who has assisted TB on several projects, ranging from media guides to online videos, and he’s done it with patience, knowledge and the coolest, deepest voice east of James Earl Jones.

Professionally, thought, TB also thinks this move is the absolute right one. The coaching credentials are there, and you can learn them by clicking on the above link and reading the introductory press release on GoPrincetonTigers.com. But there is more than just a list of championships that make this the right decision (although it’s an impressive list).

Hughes has a way of connecting with his rowers that keeps them motivated. It’s one thing to improve from one season to the next. Hughes took a program in 2006 and made it better in 2007. Then he did it again in 2008. And then he took it that one final step further in 2009, when he built one of the premier lightweight crews in Princeton history. He never let the team think it reached its peak, and he never took a shot at it when his rowers took a step back.

Go back to the 2008 IRA national championships. After finishing second at the EARC championship weeks earlier, Princeton had a national title in sight. His rowers took the charge and went after Cornell for about 1500 meters. They could have settled into a nice pace and cruised to a medal of some sort, but Hughes loves the sport and the competition — and clearly he imparted that on his rowers. The potential winning pace proved to be too much for that squad, and Princeton ended up getting passed by three boats and missed the medal stand altogether.

Afterwards, this was what Hughes said:

I have never been more proud of a crew. They took control of the national championship race early and they turned it into pure guts race for the win. Much congratulations goes to Cornell on an outstanding season. They beat our best and I think that our best was very good.

Furthermore, Hughes seeked TB out to make sure that quote was added to the story. He wanted to make sure he congratulated both Cornell and his own team for the race. Why?

Hughes loves the sport. He loves rowing at the highest level, and if another team’s best defeats his best, he’s the first one there to offer congratulations. If that sounds familiar, it should; as one TB reader pointed out, Curtis Jordan did the same thing after California topped Princeton for the 2006 national championship.

Class follows class.

Besides his obvious ability to coach the sport, Hughes is also a perfect fit in this age of technology. He has been out in front in the use of social networking to help promote the program; from the web site to creating his own Twitter page, Hughes has a unique understanding of how to best use all possible avenues to help promote both the program and the sport. When the athletic department was discussing all of the new technological changes for the coming year, Hughes could actually use his own experiences to talk about the exciting possibilities out there.

Hughes is a former national champion rower for Princeton. He coached a Princeton team to a national champion, and he was the freshman heavyweight coach for the eventual EARC and Henley champion heavyweight Class of 2006. He represents everything that is good about the Princeton rowing tradition, and TB suspects the Princeton rowing alumni will be thrilled with this decision.

Put TB first on that list.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Sounds like a great fit and a great coach.

Anonymous said...

"seeked?"

Peter P said...

Filling Curtis Jordan's shoes is a tall order. In addition to great coaching skills, Curtis has the class, character and unimpeachable integrity that separate the good from the great. In picking Greg to take over the Heavies, Gary Walters obviously recognized the importance of these intangibles to the extended family that is Princeton Rowing.

Peter Paine '85 Varsity Lights